At least 52 people, including 18 women and two children, were killed and 46 others injured when an overcrowded private bus veered off the road and fell into a 250-foot-deep gorge in Himachal Pradesh’s Chamba district on Saturday.
The 42-seat bus, on its way to Chamba from Dulera, was carrying over 100 passengers with a large number of them travelling on the roof of the vehicle when the tragedy struck, the police said.
As many as 39 people, including the driver, died on the spot, while 13 succumbed to their injuries in hospital.
Most of the victims were going to Chamba town to participate in the Minjar, a Hindu fair that symbolises the blossoming of maize.
Eyewitness Vijay Singh told the police that as the driver was negotiating a turn, one of the front wheels came unstuck and the bus rolled down the hill. Ashok Kumar, one of the passengers, said he heard a loud bang and the next moment the bus was hurtling down the gorge.
Eyewitnesses said the administration had a tough time extricating the victims from the mangled bus. People in the area began rescue operations even before local authorities reached the spot.
Most of the victims were from Chamba district.
The injured were rushed to hospital in Chamba where 12 are stated to be in critical the condition. “All the bodies have been recovered,” Chamba Deputy Commissioner Sunil Chowdhary said.
Himachal Assembly Speaker Tulsi Ram and local MLA B K Chauhan rushed to the spot and supervised the relief and rescue operations.
Expressing grief over the accident, Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal ordered a magisterial inquiry into it and announced compensation for the families of the victims. Of the total relief of Rs 1 lakh each announced for the family of the deceased, the district administration distributed immediate relief of Rs 10,000 each to the next of the kin of the victims, while the seriously injured were provided medical aid and relief of Rs 5,000 each.
The practice of travelling on the roof of the bus is prohibited but common in Himachal Pradesh, especially during festivals.
To prevent accidents, the government has banned use of mobile phones and music systems by drivers.